So Much For Noblesse Oblige

Noblesse Oblige (Upstairs, Downstairs)

Noblesse Oblige (Upstairs, Downstairs) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Once upon a time there was a mindset among the fortunate that they had a certain responsibility to the less fortunate. Oh, I quite understand that the magnitude of their generosity was mitigated by personal greed and a certain ignorance of the magnitude of the problems of the poor, but there was a time when the upper middle classes and above wanted to make sure that the lot of those “beneath” them was not completely unbearable.

Certainly there were those that painted the poor as lazy sods that deserved nothing from their betters, but they were faced with a roughly equal number who were vocal in their charity. In my lifetime it has been fashionable for the fortunate to blame the poor for their own problems, and today it is even more fashionable to blame the poor for everyone’s problems. The middle classes quarantine themselves in the suburbs, making sure they have to neither see, nor feel, the plight of their urban neighbors. “They should just get jobs” is their solution to the woes of the impoverished, ignoring that there are fewer jobs than there are people who need them. “They should move to better districts” is their solution to those whose children are stuck in under-performing schools, and it never occurs to them that these folks cannot afford to move.

Any solution that requires any sharing on their part is struck down. Metro school districts? “Why should people who work hard to live in the suburbs have to suffer because the city schools are failing.” I even read one suggestion that the solution is breaking down city school districts into several smaller districts by neighborhood, because, of course, segregating the poor is exactly what they need.

I am not going to suggest that the upper middle classes and beyond have done nothing to earn what they have (though that is almost certainly true in some cases) but to ignore that you have benefited from a system that requires there to be winners and losers is either deluded, selfish, and/or incredibly cruel. Capitalism may or may not be the best economic system, but there is no denying that it is by its nature predatory. The few benefit from the labor of the many and those that reap those benefits should show a little gratitude, not to providence, but to those whose work and spending keep them afloat.

I am sure the idea of noblesse oblige stemmed from a certain amount of enlightened self-interest: keep the masses from abject misery and the masses won’t start building gallows in the city square. So for that reason alone, maybe the whining about centralizing our public resources, higher taxes, and “socialism” ought to be toned down a bit. The fact that so many in the 1% consider themselves “good Christians” might also be a good reason to put the kibosh on your institutionalized selfishness. The guy who said “it is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter heaven” seems to have some clear ideas about what kind of bouncer he would be. I for one don’t need that to be a decent human being, but if you say that is the source of your morality, you might want to make at least some small effort proving it.

Now I know there will be those who will whine about not having a choice when it comes to taxes and welfare, but I find those complaints shallow when you consider so many live with far less choice than you have. If for no other reason you should be willing to give up a little of your precious income and wealth to make society more stable for yourself. I would hope, however, you could do it because you realize that no one should have to go hungry and homeless just so others can stay fat and happy.

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2 thoughts on “So Much For Noblesse Oblige

  1. Christine, this is a brilliant post, dear heart! It reminds me of why I am a Pacifist. Pacifism is not just about non-violence, but it is also a deliberate attitude of sharing power and giving up power and privilege and to stand in solidarity! Well done!

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